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Stop and Frisk Scam on Amtrak

07 Oct

One of the things which I believe should be on everyone’s “Bucket List”, if you can beg, borrow, or steal a way to pay for it is to take one of the few remaining Great Train trips in the US. If you are willing to go to Canada, there are still a number of unbelievable Trans-Canada, Rockies, and Northern excursions.

The last of the great trains in the US is the California Zephyr linking the Windy City and the west coast, the daily two-night California Zephyr is Amtrak’s longest route at 2,438 miles. It cuts right across the center of the US, traversing cornfields, cattle country and the Great Plains before climbing great S- and U-shaped curves to reach the Continental Divide inside the six-mile-long Moffat Tunnel at 9,239 feet above sea level and the highest point reached by an Amtrak train.

You cross the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, follow the Colorado River for more than 200 miles, cross the Oregon Trail, touch the old Rock Island Line immortalized by Lead Belly and Johnny Cash and pass the wooden covered bridges featured in the film The Bridges of Madison County.

As a train buff, I have done the Zephyr , the Sky Chief (LA to Chicago), The Crescent (NYC to New Orleans), The Great Northern, and the Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle). Fun…fun…fun!

Apparently the local Police (at least on the Zephyr) have taken to harassing the passengers and absconding with their money.

Image result for california zephyr in rockies

The Dangers of Going West on Amtrak

Another traveler reports being harassed by police officers on the California Zephyr.

Due to high costs and low ridership, Amtrak loses money on the California Zephyr, the passenger train that traverses a picturesque route from Chicago to the Bay Area. Its balance sheet would improve if more people could be persuaded to buy tickets for a “Superliner Roomette,” where there’s a picture window to watch passing scenery, two fold-down beds, and private space to get a good night’s sleep.

But the few passengers who forgo a faster, cheaper flight, shelling out upwards of $800 in hopes of an unusually pleasant journey, are setting themselves up for unpleasantness: On the route, law-enforcement officers are prone to treating passengers who’ve done nothing wrong as suspects in the drug-trafficking business.

This harassment has been going on for years.

In previous articles, I’ve written about Joseph Rivers, a 22-year-old who boarded an Amtrak train with his life savings, only to have it seized by DEA agents with no evidence of any lawbreaking, forcing him to hire a lawyer to get back what was rightfully his. I’ve written about mathematician Aaron Heuser, who traveled aboard Amtrak around the time he left his job at the National Institutes of Health—near Reno, law-enforcement officers violated his rights and took money from his wallet. I’ve noted the ACLU’s work to document behaviors deemed “suspicious” on Amtrak trains:

Among them:

Unusual nervousness of traveler
Unusual calmness or straight ahead stare
Looking around while making telephone call(s)
Position among passengers disembarking (ahead of, or lagging behind passengers)
Carrying little or no luggage
Purchase of tickets in cash

Purchase tickets immediately prior to boarding
After publishing those stories, I received correspondence from other innocent people allegedly harassed by law enforcement on Amtrak trains, many on travel to California. And I’m sorry to report that despite my efforts to shed light on these abuses, and similar articles in other publications, I still receive new emails with the same old story.

The latest comes from Evan Rinehart, an engineer who lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. He recently took an Amtrak to Chicago without incident, save for chilly temperatures and a passenger seated beside him in coach whom he found unpleasant.

He decided to buy a private compartment for the rest of his journey west.

On the last morning of his trip, he wrote, he was prematurely awoken from the good night’s sleep he purchased at a premium. A plain-clothes police officer was knocking at his door.

“He asked if I was transporting large amounts of drugs, large quantities of currency, or illegal weapons. Obviously I said no, which was true,” he wrote. “Then he asked me about the purpose of my trip and how long I would be in San Francisco. I didn’t have much of a plan, but I told him I was visiting friends there, which was true. Then he wanted to search my luggage, all two small bags in the roomette, ‘with your permission of course, with you present.’ I knew that there needed to be a warrant to justify such an unreasonable search, but being intimidated as all hell I let him. When I backed into the hallway he introduced me to his partner who was standing some distance away who just stared at me the whole time.”
All this when at most the search would uncover an amount of drugs so tiny it could fit in two small travel bags. How would that change the drug scene in the Bay Area?

Most law-enforcement officials would consider this a non-incident: cops got consent for a search and found nothing at no cost beyond their time. In reality, these sorts of “nothing to see here” interactions unnerve people, spoil their journeys, and cause them to feel that they’ve been mistreated by their own government. The experience is only more galling when the public employees conducting the search adopt a hostile attitude, treating innocents like they are lying criminals.

The person who searched Rinehart’s bag started to engage him about what he had packed. “At one point he remarked that I didn’t have enough clothes with me for the length of my vacation, however long he thought that was,” the passenger recalled. “This remark pissed me off, but at the time I continued treating these guys like normal people hoping they would leave. As the train was getting ready to leave he abruptly ended the conversation, thanked me for being patient and they left.” Rinehart has been seeking a refund from Amtrak without success, complaining that his treatment aboard the train was “less than first class,” though he paid $917.

More troubling was what happened when he tried to file a complaint about the interaction with law enforcement. “Thinking these police may not have been real, I called Amtrak police to report suspicious circumstances,” he wrote. “Without confirmation that this was standard procedure, the operator suggested that I definitely should call Reno police to get the specific unit and reasons for being selected. So I called Reno police and the woman I talked to was quite unprofessional, also didn’t confirm that it was standard procedure, or seem to be concerned that I thought it might be fake police. Then she suggested I call internal affairs.”…More Here

 

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